The most compelling—or at least the most fun—industry booth at the 2018 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) was Systems Technology Inc’s. (STI), whose exhibit featured their signature PARASIM® skydiving 3-D virtual simulator (VR) product.

Defense Systems Journal has reported from a hundred defense and aerospace trade shows and there’s usually at least one shiny VR simulator present. If you can find the time and can summon the courage to fail in front of an audience that includes people who know what they are doing, you strap in and see what happens. Whether you are shooting at the red force, flying and landing a military aircraft or helicopter on a pitching deck, or providing battlefield treatment to a critically wounded colleague, it’s interactive, it’s fun, it’s entertaining.

But the issue with simulators, at least to this reporter, is determining whether they are just providing entertainment or whether what you are simulating is close enough to the real thing, whether it offers sufficient fidelity, to have any value as a training tool to real operators.  And how would I know anyway? As a reporter, and not an operator, what’s my point of reference?

There’s probably no better place to get answers to this question than at SOFIC, where the customer community has little time for toys. To this end, DSJ spoke, adjacent the PARASIM simulator, to a handful of professed (if unnamed) special operators who had hundreds of “real” jumps between them, and their response and experience with it at SOFIC was highly positive.

“The chute feels authentic and the VR looks surprisingly realistic. What this device gives you that’s special is the chance to deal with potentially fatal chute malfunctions that you wouldn’t otherwise, hopefully, have a chance to see … until you do” said one. Another related: “This isn’t a real jump, of course.  But it is maybe the next best thing. I had heard about PARASIM and had my doubts, but now, having tried it, I’m sold on the training value and, as long as it doesn’t cost me real jumps, I hope its use spreads across the force.”

Product Origins & Military Operators

Offered by STI, an aviation technology company founded in 1957, PARASIM® was originally developed to support the need for a better training solution for US Forestry Service “Smoke Jumpers” and evolved with support from a US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)-sponsored Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant.

The world’s first virtual reality (VR) parachute simulator, PARASIM® has been the industry standard for aircrew and paratrooper training for nearly twenty years.

PARASIM® suspends operators, in tailor-made and user-specific parachuting equipment, from an aluminum frame with their every movement instantly translated to the VR skydiving digital headset, which itself features software and scenarios customized to their specific needs and mission profiles.

According to Russ Lascink, a Naval Academy graduate (‘98), former US Marine, and STI’s Head of Business Development for the product, PARASIM was developed in response to the parachuting community’s need for a safe, effective training solution and was refined and improved based on the military’s need for high fidelity training. Lascink echoes what we heard from Special Operators who demoed the system, namely that PARASIM is focused on providing as authentic a simulation as possible and that a key focus is in emergency training, where some fourteen possible scenarios are presented to operators.

“The visual and the dynamics we present in PARASIM have to be exactly the same as the real world,” Lascink said. “We coordinate closely with the parachute manufacturers. The handles have to be in exactly the right place. We can’t have any negative training.”

And PARASIM’s industry leadership is clear, with STI having sold over 300 trainers to the DoD and other militaries worldwide.

Within the DoD, Lascink notes that STI has sold PARASIM® to each of the Military Services and that USSSOCOM has been a strong supporter. Indeed, each of the Military Services’ special forces have at least one PARASIM® unit operational at each of the major theatre commands as well as most domestic bases to support newly transferred personnel, conduct refresher training, and rehearse future mission profiles to reinforce muscle memory. (Beyond PARASIM®, Lascink notes that STI provides both emergency egress (pilot ejection and aircrew bailout) training to the US Air Force and Navy and premeditated military jump training (for both military freefall and static line training operations) for every branch of service.)

Enhancing System Fidelity and Realism via VBS3

With PARASIM® well established and proliferating across DoD and international conventional and special forces, STI’s news at SOFIC was the integration within PARASIM of Bohemia Interactive Simulation’s new military grade graphics modeling engine VBS3 (Virtual Battle Space 3), which was recently selected by the Army and Marine Corps and NATO military countries as a “Program of Record” for integration of future wargaming simulation systems. This development, according to Lascink, allows PARASIM users to rehearse real jumps… with never before achieved accuracy. (A video clip from the operator’s point of view is accessible here… )

So, by leveraging VBS3, PARASIM operators can not only practice jumps using their real gear, not only train for and against more than a dozen possible mishaps, but can actually rehearse tomorrow’s precise insertion before they jump on the actual mission.